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Georg Friedrich HÄNDEL
Gloria [16.10] (World Premiere Recording)
 Emma Kirkby, soprano; Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra/Laurence Cummings
rec: 3 May, 2001, Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London, England.
Dixit Dominus
Anne Sofie von Otter, alto; Hillevi Martinpelto, soprano; Stockholm Bach Choir; Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble conducted by Anders Öhrwall.
rec January 1986, Adolf Fredik Church, Stockholm, Sweden.
 BIS CD 1235 [49 mins]
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There has been a lot of hubris about this "recently discovered" work by Händel, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo (HWV deest; deest being Latin for missing, since this work is not included in the standard catalogue of Händel's works). The manuscript of this work, which was in the library of the Royal Academy of Music in London, was part of a larger manuscript containing arias from Händel's operas. Long known, yet considered to be "dubious", no one had examined the work for a very long time, even though the manuscript of the Gloria bore the mention "Händel" underlined twice by a copyist. Professor Hans Joachim Marx, of Hamburg, Germany, shortly after visiting the library in 2000, claimed that Händel indeed wrote the Gloria, and his authentication has been unanimously accepted by Händel scholars and musicologists. "The music is very virtuosic, very expressive and full of effects," Professor Marx said. "I realised its significance immediately."

This is a small-scale work - it was composed for soprano, 2-part violin, and basso continuo, and lasts just over 16 minutes in this recording. (Some initial press reports claimed it was a choral work, but this is not the case.) It seems to have been composed in Händel's early years, either during his last years in Hamburg or his first few years in Italy, 1706 - 1708. This has been determined by melodic and stylistic similarities with other works of the period.

The work is a musically demanding one for the soprano soloist. It is suggested that it might have been written for a castrato, or a very capable soprano. Michael Talbot, Professor of Music at the University of Liverpool, said, "The quality of the work is so high that it will surely join the ranks of Händel's most loved music. It has great melodic distinction. The vocal lines are complex and flowing, yet never degenerate to empty virtuosity. It is a wonderful piece. It's going to make a big splash."

Händel scholar Donald Burrows said: "This is a very exciting piece. There's no doubt of its authenticity, particularly because the musical content includes various melodies and fragments we also know from other contexts of Händel's music."

The world premiere performance of the entire Gloria (a performance of two sections of it was given in March 2001) will be held 3 June 2001 at the International Händel Göttingen Festival.


This world premiere recording presents the Gloria coupled with another of Händel's sacred works, the Dixit Dominus.

The Gloria opens with a delightfully energetic expository section, the Gloria in excelsis Deo. The tenor of the work is clear - the soprano has a demanding score, and there is a wonderful interplay with a solo violin weaving in and out of her melody. This is the kind of music that might make some hum along, and others tap their feet - this is music that expresses great joy and happiness.

The second movement, Et in terra pax…, much slower and more plaintive, is a perfect vehicle for soprano Emma Kirkby's crystalline voice, as the melody covers a very large range, and the continuo stays a bit in the background.

The next movement, Laudamus te…, is again a fast movement, like the first very demanding, requiring vocal virtuosity from the soprano. Yet it maintains the extraordinary balance between the violins and soloist through an ingenious accompaniment.

This segues into the Gratias agimus tibi…, a brief, lively movement, before another slow, melancholic movement, Domine Deus… Here, again, Kirkby is in her element, with beautiful dynamics and excellent tone.

The centrepiece of the work is the Qui tollis…, the longest movement of the piece at 4.23. Slow, mournful and sombre, this makes it all worthwhile. Kirkby is excellent here, as in the rest of the piece, with her voice soaring gracefully in a very large range, hitting some heart-rending high notes. "Have mercy on us," says the text, "You take away the sins of the world." The music here is the perfect translation of the text.

The next movement, Quoniam to solus sanctus…, is again gay and energetic. It segues into the most virtuosic of the work's sections, the final movement, Cum Sancto Spiritu…, a display of vocal pyrotechnics that will ensure that only the best sopranos give this work its due.

Overall, this is indeed a delightful work. A strong Italian influence, coupled with a standard German cantata style (without recitatives), makes this a beautiful, intimate work. The music is beautiful and moving, and Kirkby's performance is probably as good as it gets. The orchestra plays excellently, and the recording is just about perfect - Kirkby is present without dominating the instruments.

Yet, I cannot help but think that Bach wrote at least a dozen cantatas as good as this - remember, this is a small-scale work, for soprano, violins and continuo. While it has been compared to the Messiah in melodic beauty, it is on a different scale.

Dixit Dominus

While the main interest of this disc resides in the first recording of the Gloria, the Dixit Dominus should not be ignored. This is an old recording that Bis pulled out of its vaults as "filler" for this disc. Yet, this is a grandiose and majestic work, admirably performed and recorded. Quite the opposite of the Gloria, this is a large-scale choral work, just over 32 minutes long, featuring two excellent singers, Hillevi Martinpelto, soprano and Anne Sofie von Otter, alto, and a superb choir, the Stockholm Bach Choir.

This flashy work was composed in 1707, in Rome - about the same time as the Gloria. Here, too, Händel called on the talents of his singers, both soloists and choir. A much more direct work, this is closer to a "standard" mass, with alternating choral and solo sections.

One thing I find a bit disappointing, however, is the recording of the Dixit Dominus. There is a great deal of echo, undoubtedly natural, from the church where the recording was made. This is not necessarily bad, but, coming after the much more intimate and direct sound of the Gloria, it is a bit jarring.


The Gloria is a beautiful work; you couldn't go wrong with this delightful and moving work and its "filler", the Dixit Dominus. While I find some of the comments by the various musicologists, such as some people who compared it to the Messiah, similar to the best political spin, it is indeed a memorable work.

Kirk McElhearn

Peter Woolf adds:-

Händel's 16 mins.solo setting of the Gloria in excelsis Deo, of which this is the first recording, remained unknown to scholars and musicians for nearly 300 years. Nicholas Clapton thought its attribution to Handel 'highly dubious' (Early Music, 1983), but the manuscript in the Royal Academy of Music library has now been authenticated by Professor Hans Joachim Marx, leaked sensationally to the media (our Webmaster thought it might be an April Fool joke!) and caused a brief furore. Hard on the heels of its rediscovery comes this delectable first recording, fittingly made in the institution where the piece was housed, and with Britain's best loved coloratura baroque soprano.

It is coupled with a reissued 1983 Adolf Fredrik Church Stockholm recording of the well-known Dixit Dominus, which I recommend playing first. This features the young Sophie van Otter as alto soloist and was previously available on BIS CD322, both works dating from c.1707, when Handel was 22. It is performed in a resonant church acoustic and displays vivid word painting and dramatic shocks in the response to the text by a young genius.

The Gloria gets a more up-front and forward treatment in the Duke's Hall of London's Royal Academy of Music, and the support by the students of the RAM Baroque Orchestra under Laurence Cummings (Head of Historical Performance) is exemplary. It will bring to international notice the excellence of college and university music making in UK, which has received constant attention from Seen&Heard - those are the places to find some of the most exciting, forward looking and best prepared performances now before the public, freed as they are from commercial considerations which figure at the Proms, the South Bank and The Barbican. Emma Kirkby is in fine form and revels in the virtuosic demands of this youthful masterwork.

Short measure at under 50 minutes, but a CD which will give great pleasure. The full background history of the Gloria is given by the Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, Curtis Price in the liner notes and on the Royal Academy's website .

Peter Grahame Woolf

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